‘Ed’s Gone

So Ed Smith, the man we’ve come to know as Big ‘Ed, is riding into the sunset on his IPL branded golf buggy. Not too many will shed a tear. Apparently some of the players might even be overjoyed.

It seems to me, therefore, that things have come full circle (and not without a hint of irony). The man who was the beneficiary of ECB politics when he was appointed – the right sort of tie, personal friend of Andrew Strauss etc – has now fallen foul of ECB politics.

Ashley Giles, whose somewhat ineffectual demeanour actually hides a ruthless streak, wanted to make his own mark by axing Smith, who he isn’t particularly close to, in a ‘restructuring’ exercise. It’s all slightly comical and oh so ECB.

What did I make of Smith’s tenure? Not much to be frank. I thought he tried to be far too clever for his own good. At first he tried to reinvent the wheel – i.e. prove that he was cleverer than any other selector in the history of Test cricket – by prioritising performance in front of IPL crowds over basic technique.

Smith also thought he’d try to turn team England into Ajax Amsterdam by promoting theories of total cricket – in other words, packing the side with all-rounders (also known as bits and pieces cricketers).

Anyone with a functioning cricketing brain, of course, knows that Test cricket is a game where specialists thrive. Smith has a huge brain but his train of thought frequently seemed to get derailed by hubris. Overthinking things was often his MO.

Were there individual successes under Smith? Not really. Not unless you want to count The World Cup which was mainly the work of Eoin Morgan and his predecessors. Meanwhile, Smith’s Test record was very mixed. The experiment with Jason Roy was foolish. His early selection of Ollie Pope at No.4 was equally nonsensical and a tad irresponsible. Meanwhile, his love of Sam Curran, who he wanted to open the bowling ahead of Stuart Broad in the Caribbean, still seems irrational.

I’d also argue that the alleged big success of Smith’s tenure, the recalled Jos Buttler, hasn’t actually improved the team at all. Buttler averages 33.6 as keeper. The man he replaced, Jonny Bairstow, averaged 37.8 as keeper. This has therefore been a net negative. And remember, Buttler only took the gloves off Bairstow because he wasn’t scoring enough runs to justify his place as a specialist batsman. Although Jos has shown some belated growth in recent times, I think the jury’s still out on this one.

The big question moving forward now is whether the decision to make Smith redundant by abolishing the National Selector job makes sense. Sadly, despite my low opinion of Smith, I think Giles has made a mistake. After all, ultimate responsibility for selection has now been passed to Chris Silverwood – a man who doesn’t have the time to watch any county cricket.

Trevor Bayliss, who had rarely seen any of England’s new recruits play before their first practice, must think that English cricket has gone completely bonkers – which, of course, would be incorrect. The truth is that it’s always been completely bonkers.

England’s head coach is now in the unenviable position of having to rely on the intel of others before selecting England squads. And he can be fired if mistakes are made, even though these mistakes probably won’t be his fault.

The benefit of a National Selector was that his role was purely to watch cricket. It’s a specialist position. And if the players he picks turn out to be as bad as Roy then he gets sacked (eventually).

It seems to me, therefore, that in attempting to “make the lines of accountability much clearer” Giles is actually muddying the waters. Silverwood may turn out to be a terrific coach but an awful judge of a player. And what then? You can’t exactly sack him.

More responsibility will now inevitably fall on the shoulders of James Taylor, who has become the new ‘head scout’ while Mo Bobat, a man supporters know practically nothing about, will provide some input too. We’ve also heard rumours of about an expanded scouting network. We’ll see.

From a personal perspective, however, I always quite liked having a Chairman of Selectors. Some were good (I’m looking at you Geoff Miller), some were mixed (I’m looking at you David Graveney), and some were absolutely nuts (I’m looking at you Ted Dexter). However, when the right people were in place then the system worked well.

Consequently, I don’t really understand Giles’s logic. He’s basically made Chris Silverwood, a pretty inexperienced coach who likes to do nonsensical things like pick five seamers and no spinners in his XIs (which he’s done at least twice), the most powerful supremo in English cricket for some time.

Giles should’ve remembered the tenure of Ray Illingworth before making this move. And let’s not forget that Illingworth had far better cricketing credentials than Silverwood.

Sadly, it never seems to go well when one coach has too much power. English cricket has always worked best with a competent coach working with competent selectors.

What’s more, many critics have often claimed that the England set up is far too cosy. This move will just make things worse. If your face doesn’t fit then you won’t even get named in squads let alone the final XI.

The bottom line is that Ed’s gone. But Giles’s ‘ed may well have gone too.

James Morgan

20 comments

  • Delighted to see Smith go but this is an over-elaborate sacking. Did we really need to abolish an important role to get rid of the incumbent?

    • Agreed. Some on social media seem in favour of the move so I’m hoping we get some people arguing the opposite case below. I’d like to understand it better.

      I don’t think Giles is afraid of making tough decisions so I don’t see this as a way / excuse for moving Smith out the door. I think Giles genuinely thinks his new structure is best. We shall see.

  • Smith was often guilty of trying to be too clever, and he was also on occasions ludicrously stubborn over his favourites. I hope that one consequence of Smith’s departure will be that Foakes finally takes his rightful place as England’s first choice test keeper. Overall I am relieved that Smith has gone.

  • Eds classic middle management. Passing off old ideas, often discarded, as his own brand of high tec marketeering. All style and no substance. Always hated the guy. I’ve worked with so many like him, just too confident for their own good. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
    I see this as an ideal opportunity to appoint a successor with recent significant international experience. I agree leaving the mercurial Silverwood in charge seems overstretching his qualifications. I’m not sure the county championship is the breeding ground for test players any more. It seems to me that the present system alights on players those in charge feel have the potential to succeed, whatever their stats. The expansion of a scouting system may or may not help this. If someone makes a big score it’s not the fact of the score that seems to matter but the manner of the scoring. This way a good 50 may warrant more attention than a big hundred. The problem with this system comes when things don’t work out, despite the time and effort put into working with the player. How many chances to you give someone to repay that faith. As you say the present set up seems to be incredibly cliquey. If your face fits you get given many chances. It’s a bit like when I was coming through the county ranks as a youngster and all the trials pitted the ‘probables’ against the ‘possibles’. Effectively the team had already been chosen, the scouts had watched the proboables time and again, so even in the event of trial failure they still got the nod, whereas the possibles had to put on a show at the trials to get noticed atall. It’s like they were there to make up the numbers so the system was seen to be a fair judgement of selection, which everyone knew it wasn’t, even the probables.

    • There won’t be a replacement for Smith sadly. The new structure puts the coach in charge of selection.

      • It would be an interesting study to pick, especially for home series, the most successful county cricketers of the season to play in the test matches, especially now so much county cricket is played early in the season. Would that X1, populated by in form players, be significantly less successful than the present crew. At least that way you could do away with the need for a selection committee altogether. The only thing to consider would be the balance of the side and the captain. Then you are selecting purely on cricketing merit, not potential, and strange omissions like James Hildreth would have a chance, whatever their age.
        Whilst I am in favour of giving players a chance, especially if they seem specially suited to the format, how much confidence do we really have in the likes of Burns, Sibley, Crawley and Lawrence to give us consistency.

  • ‘His early selection of Ollie Pope at No.4 was equally nonsensical and a tad irresponsible.’
    I don’t think that you can blame Ed for that. Squad selection and team selection were, stupidly in my view, separate. Ed and Co. picked the squad and Bayliss and Root picked the team and chose the batting order. It was effectively Bayliss who chose to bat Pope – nonsensically and irresponsibly as you say – at 4 (and similarly Root at 3). When he selected the squad, I don’t think Ed envisaged Pope batting at 4.

  • Ed Smith has in my view been an excellent national selector who has added to the expertise and leadership of England’s men’s cricket team. There I have said it. For anyone who has followed “The Full Toss Blog” for any period of time they will have noticed that James, el supremo of the blog, is probably not Ed Smith’s biggest fan.

    For a selector, Ed Smith attracts lots of attention particularly on Twitter where I have to admit that I follow and enjoy the parody account “Ed Smith – Maverick Genius”. The portrayal of Ed as an evil genius who is intellectually arrogant and snobbish is very funny. It is generally gentle humour. The fun poked at Ed over his outfits, articles, and sunglasses requires you to be a regular follower but like all parody seems to have an element of truth. George Dobell of Cricinfo and Elizabeth Ammon of The Times (“Legside Lizzy” on Twitter) also add to the general fun of this thesis.

    I always enjoyed Ed Smith’s articles and his book “Playing Hard Ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball” was excellent although I admit to being in that very small minority that enjoys and follows both County Cricket and Major League Baseball. Sometimes his articles in The Times and New Statesman could be obscure and take a few readings but he always seemed to be looking for a new angle – the Billy Beane of Cricket. Watch the excellent film Moneyball if you do not know who Billy Beane is.

    Smith was appointed in April 2018 taking over from James Whitaker. The framework in which decisions are made and teams selected was implemented by Andrew Strauss when he was Director of English Cricket. The framework with coach and captains adding to the selection of teams on the day of games seems to me to have been quite successful. The white ball teams regularly play very well and we did win the World Cup. I believe most of the credit for that goes to the coach and captain. The Test team results have been more mixed but in my view selection policy has improved in the followings ways:

    1. Consistency. Players selected are given a proper chance to earn their place and are not discarded after two matches as they were constantly in the bad days of the 1980s and 1990s when we were often the joke team of world cricket. This is often an area where criticism is most severe but I think it has helped the players selected gain confidence they will be given a fair chance and as a result, we see confidence and performance improvements. The win ratio in the Test arena improved significantly during Smith’s tenure.

    2. He looks for players across a wide spectrum and will give those who have succeeded in one form at the international level a chance in other areas whilst still bringing in the best, in whatever form, from domestic tournaments.

    This second area has been a challenge for me. I am primarily a fan of Test Matches and the County Championship so I do not follow the white ball game as closely. Unfortunately, the Championship has been marginalised in the last ten years, which is not Ed Smith’s fault. Therefore I have reluctantly come to the view that we cannot rely on that tournament ALONE for building our Test team. If you can get over this then it is logical that we should use white-ball cricket as one source of potential players. Jos Buttler and Joffra Archer are the obvious outstanding achievements here but I accept there have been failures too. There always will be but again we cannot blame Ed Smith for that he is prepared to give people a chance.

    Smith does generally introduce interesting selections and some “wild cards” but on the whole, I would say we have better teams now, incredible depth in fast, seam bowling plus promise in batting. I am not sure Ollie Pope would have been given his chance as he has under previous regimes. Ben Foakes will get his chance again at wicket-keeper.

    Most of this I wrote for the site last summer but I still think these views are relevant.

    • Some good points made there Michael. Certainly consistency of selection has improved (although a key requirement for a test batsman remains a private education – not Smith’s fault of course). I agree to an extent on the success of Archer (although he seems a bit injury prone – ?not enough red ball cricket) but I can’t view Buttler as an outstanding achievement at all.

    • Hi Michael. Thanks for giving the other side of the argument. Much needed!

      I’ll just come back quickly on a couple of points. Consistency of selection has been a characteristic of all England selectors since at least Graveney. It was a response to the erratic selections of the 90s.

      I also wanted to point out (follow the link at the beginning) that it’s been reported that Smith was quite unpopular with the players. I think that says something too. It’s not his job to be popular, of course, but I do think it suggests that his input wasn’t always right and wasn’t always appreciated either.

      Finally, I think Smith’s penchant for looking for new angles was his weakness not his strength. He was always too obsessed with ideas, and trying to satisfy his intellect, rather than keeping things simple. Sometimes orthodoxy is orthodoxy for a reason (especially in Test cricket). Nobrainers are usually the right move not the wrong one. Just my opinion.

      • Thanks James. Good to see you so active on the blog again.

        On consistency, I am not so sure I agree but it has been much better since the
        90’s. I suspect nobody in charge will be popular with all players and will always be so. I like the new angles and do not agree he was obsessed he maybe was more prepared to articulate.

        Andrew Miller on Cricinfo said in an article yesterday
        “When, in the coming months, England’s players find their style cramped within the dressing room, and have to bite their tongues for fear of getting on the wrong side of the captain-coach combination that now has a more official hold over their careers, they may yet have reason to miss Smith’s defiantly independent line of thought.”
        Mike Selvey indicated agreement on twitter with this.

        The good thing is we may see Ed Smith’s return to writing and broadcasting. I have always enjoyed it.

    • Consistency is one thing but persuing dead end avenues like Buttler and Bairstow as keepers when we have 2 or 3 world class county men on the assumption that their runs will make up for dropped catches and missed stumpings is moronic.
      What a I most object to about Smith is his arrogant assertion that his ideas are new when he’s going down the jack of all trades route. This has been tried at test level and found wanting every time. It wasn’t his idea to go down the Sibley and Crawley route of more sedate batting in the top order to accumulate better first innings totals, that was clearly from Silverwood. His support of Bess was also misplaced as even Root, his captain, clearly had no confidence in the player. Ed has never been a team player and rubs people up the wrong way. With his limited experience of cricket at the top level he needed to listen more. As for James Taylor, all I can say is he must be a PowerPoint wizard. Can’t think of any qualifications he has to be in that job.

  • Smith’s going I see as a) a money-saving exercise (and despite shedding no tears for the incumbent I think this could mark a further down-grading of international cricket) and b) a result of Bayliss no longer being in the job (Silverwood has seen most of the players when at Essex and they probably think they can whisk James Taylor off to see any new names that emerge).

    I just wanted to add that on the ESL it’s been amusing to see many of the same arguments for The Hundred being trotted out. The Real Madrid President spoke of “legacy supporters” like Harrison did of “obsessives” and even said games might be made shorter to attract new fans. of course i football this leads to a revolution and promises of government action whereas in cricket it just leads to a shrug and “whatever”.

    • Perhaps there’s another irony I’ve missed then. If Smith really was moved on to save money, it’s all because of The Hundred, a funky idea that seems right up Ed’s street!

  • It’s not just Ed Smith who needs to go. The whole sorry ECB needs completely restructuring from top to bottom. Governing Body? What a joke. Probably the worst governing body of any sport. It isn’t controlled by it’s membership, but by a load of ex bankers and shopkeepers who think they know best. Premier Leaguer Football Clubs anyone. At least they are beginning to learn you can’t ignore your core members for ever after the latest fiasco.. They need to define what the word “sport” means to start with and it’s not all about money. Next the whole structure of English cricket is in dire need of change, starting with doing away with the 100.
    As for Smith, I can’t see any positives of a man who largely picks his favorites and never watches the County Game, like Bayliss before him. Neither does Silverwood, oh dear.

  • Not shedding any tears over Smith’s departure. Some of the things he’s accused of – obsession with all-rounders, using white ball cricket as a basis for selecting England Test teams – actually pre-date his appointment by many years – but he took both to another level. Wasn’t it one of his ex-Kent team mates who referred to him as “FICJAM” (F*** I’m clever, just ask me)?
    However, abolishing the national selector’s role completely is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Silverwood doesn’t have time to scout county cricket if he’s coaching England full time, and being a good coach doesn’t make you a good selector. The ECB have obviously forgotten the disaster that was Ray Illingworth – giving too much power to one man rarely works out.

  • A passing observation from Down Under, I do not understand why Ben Foakes is not the permanent Test gloveman. Seems to be technically much better than the others who often do it and his batting has spine.

  • Absolutely agree.

    The idea that the coach should be the only selector is all rather silly. Judging a player is incredibly difficult and probably needs the input of 2 or 3 objective people. If there is anything we are learning from all of this, is that finding that “je ne sais quoi” is incredibly difficult, and giving that responsibility solely to the coach is just adding to the pressure of the job.

  • A selector should be ‘professional’, and not play favourites. Human nature is not like that, and all selectors do have favourites, apart from Bayliss who didn’t know anyone.

    Fletcher was praised for spotting the talent of Trescothick and Vaughan, but Swann and Sidebottom had to wait until he had gone. The players said he was a great coach. That’s the ones on the inside, those that were selected. Those on the outside were never asked. Saj Mahmood and Plunkett better than Sidebottom?

    Then came Smith, and Roy and Buttler and Curran. Silverwood will doubtless too have his favourites, but he is a warmer person than the aloof Smith seems to be. He certainly won over the good folk of Chelmsford, as he had the Yorkshire supporters as a player of character.

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